A federal mediator ordered that “supervisors and non-supervisors be compensated an equitable and fair amount of additional pay equal to the amount of money received by police officers and firefighters between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2016” in a ruling between the City of Mesquite and Teamsters Local 14.
The ruling issued Aug. 10 culminates months of negotiations between the union and city that began in March 2015 after the Mesquite Police Officers Association union settled with the city in December 2014 and Teamsters #14 contract for Fire & Rescue was signed with the city in February 2015.
Police officers began receiving step increases retroactive to July 1, 2014 while Fire & Rescue employees also received step increases retroactive to July 1, 2013.
Teamsters Local #14 representing rank-and-file city employees say those increases kicked in a
“me too” clause in the contract that says “if any other group receives any monetary gain in the negotiated collective bargaining agreements for 2013/14 – 2015/16, other than for a necessary job reclassification, an equal monetary gain shall be given to all employees subject to this Agreement.”
City Attorney Bob Sweetin with city council approval argued back that the step increases did not constitute a wage increase, therefore, were not subject to the “me too” clause.
Arbitrator Byron Berry apparently agreed with the union saying in his ruling “It is the clear intention of this decision to make sure that any and all financial raises given to the police officers and firefighters …shall also be given to the members of Teamsters Local 14 for the time period of July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2016.”
Berry also cited that the aggregate average pay raise police officers received was 16.32 percent while firefighters received an average aggregate increase of 14.22 percent. Grant Davis, Vice President/Director of Operations, Teamsters Local #14, told the Mesquite Local News that should garner a 5 percent pay raise per year for city employees with a three year total of 15 percent retroactive to July 1, 2013.
Should that hold the city is not only on the hook for all the back pay but also for retroactive Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) contributions that runs at 27.5 percent of each employee’s gross pay per year.
Davis previously estimated the city will owe somewhere between $728,929 and $749,490 depending on the exact final numbers of the pay raises.
Sweetin said the arbitrator’s ruling is “something the city already agreed with that the employees deserved some sort of raise. That they wouldn’t has never been at play. Now we have spent a bunch of money for an arbitrator to tell us ‘figure out the amount.’ But the Teamsters have never given us a hard number to work with. The union can’t pinpoint how much money they want. They just say ‘a lot.’ Hopefully, this decision shows the union that we can get to a number that works for everybody.”
Sweetin told the MLN that in all likelihood the city will appeal the arbitrator’s reasoning used in the ruling in district court. “We will have a meeting with the council and mayor to determine what they want to do and where they want to go from here,” Sweetin said. Davis says the contract holds a clause that any arbitration ruling is final and therefore not subject to appeal.
“We will have a meeting with all of the union members to have them vote on this ruling,” Davis said. “We realize there are long-term impacts of this and we know we have to work with the city.”
Davis said the union had previously offered to make the pay raises retroactive to 2014, not 2013, presumably saving the city a year’s worth of raises. He also said the raises for 2014 and 2015 would have been “a bonus” and not classified as salary thus negating the PERS contributions on them.
Sweetin said previous union offers “never cited an absolute number so we never knew exactly what they were offering that we could work from.”
He added that the union rejected a previous offer from the city because it wanted to tie a ‘no layoff’ clause to the agreement. “We couldn’t guarantee no layoffs,” Sweetin said “because there were going to have to be layoffs at the number we offered. No layoffs would have bankrupted the city in three years.”
The second point of contention involved in the arbitration was the city’s contention that the union never filed a formal grievance against the city regarding the pay raise issue. Arbitrator Berry ruled that an email sent by the Teamsters to city officials on March 10, 2015 “met the definition of a grievance” and that anything more formal “would have been futile and the law does not require the doing of a futile act.”
City employees are currently working without a contract since the one under dispute expired June 30. Davis says the union would like to extend the old contract two years and not begin negotiations on a new one just yet. Sweetin says the city is fine without either extending the old contract or negotiating a new one. “We are laser-focused on getting the current issues settled and agreed on,” he added.
“The city has gone to great lengths to come to a conclusion of this. The city has made offers to the union that they were not prepared to decide on. The city has been prepared at every step of the way to actually get a deal done. The union has simply attempted to prolong things to draw as much money as they can out of the city. They need to come to the table and agree on a deal in good faith which is something they haven’t done,” Sweetin said.